Experts have raised concerns that vulnerable people are missing out on vital cost of living support after it emerged that more than a third of energy bill vouchers for people on prepayment meters have not been redeemed.
Data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) this week revealed that 1.4 million of the energy support scheme vouchers have not been redeemed since October.
The vouchers are meant to provide the government’s £400 energy bill support payment to people who use prepayment meters, and are paid in monthly £66 installations.
People who use prepayment meters, which work on a pay-as-you-go basis, are more likely to have low incomes, and be experiencing fuel poverty. If a household runs out of credit they are disconnected and left without heating or electricity.
Last month the government admitted there has been a “blockage” in getting the vital £400 energy rebate to prepayment meter households.
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In a letter to BEIS secretary Grant Shapps on Tuesday, National Energy Action, Which?, Citizens Advice, Age UK and Money Saving Expert expressed “serious concern” about the fact “vital” energy bill support wasn’t reaching so many customers.
“As you know, customers on traditional prepayment meters are more likely to be vulnerable and on lower incomes,” they said.
They are also in the minority of customers who need to take action in order to receive the government’s £400 energy bills discount, which is being distributed to traditional prepayment customers by energy companies in the form of vouchers which they will need to redeem at a top-up point.”
They added: “We understand that this is a new, complex scheme that has been implemented quickly during a challenging time.
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“Nevertheless, we believe it is your responsibility, alongside government, to do everything you can to ensure this vital support reaches people as soon as possible.”
In an interview with ITV’s, Shapps acknowledged there was an issue and said companies were not “set up” to deal with the scheme.
“What concerns me is that gap between vouchers being sent out and people finding the voucher,” he said.
“There isn’t one way that this is done because the energy providers are sending them out in different ways, sometimes by text, sometimes by email, sometimes through the door.”
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He added: “Some of the energy companies have now put in place sort of teams of people in some cases to actually go and knock on doors where they see there haven’t been redemptions made and others have put extra customer services.
“But one of the things which really worried me when I came on your show previously was that some of the energy providers haven’t been picking up the phone when they’ve been called, answering those questions.”
It comes as the cost-of-living crisis continues to deepen, with the average energy bill set to hit £3,000 per year in April and inflation hitting 10.7% in the 12 months to November 2022.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) more than 90% of the population have noticed their cost of living increase.
And disposable income is expected to drop by 4.3% in 2023, with living standards set to decline at record levels.